Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • Falwell: “We’re not electing a Sunday-school teacher, we’re electing a president.”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 03:19 pm, November 30th 2006     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    This just in, thanks to The CornerJerry Falwell isn't endorsing Romney, but he could:

    "There's no question that there are strong feelings about Mormonism. But we're not electing a Sunday-school teacher, we're electing a president. I do not believe his church affiliation will hinder his being a viable candidate among evangelicals."

    [tags] Jerry Falwell, Mitt Romney, Mormonism, The Corner [/tags]

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    The Transformation of Religion, Part 2: Fear of Mormons

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:53 am, November 30th 2006     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Yesterday John referred to Mitt Romney as a candidate who "threatens . . . the left [and] also threatens the extreme right . . . ." I think that's true, and I have been wondering myself why.  I've settled on one aspect of this blog’s subject that has always fascinated me:  Fear of Mormons. 

    Such fear may have something to do with the “increasingly shrill and vitriolic rhetoric” to which John refers—from both sides of the political spectrum.  I think many on both Left and Right fear Mormonism, for different reasons.  Why?  John and I both think that question opens an important topic for discussion.

    In my ponderings, I have been asking myself, "If I were not a Mormon myself, what about my faith would worry or disturb me?"  The following is the short list I have come up with so far:

    1. General unfamiliarity with the LDS faith and its culture. There are many more members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Church") than Episcopalians, but we Mormons just haven't been around, or been numerous, for very long at all.  True, there are 12 million of us worldwide, about 6 million in the USA.  But perhaps only half of those members actually practice the religion actively.  (As in all faiths, there are varying degrees of religious activity among Mormons.) 

    Compounding that problem is Mormonism's historical regional concentration in Utah, Idaho, and parts of Nevada and Arizona.  Having fled to, and gathered in, the American Mountain West, we didn't mix much with others in the early days.  Now, however, only about 15% of the Church's members live in Utah.  Even  so, I often find that I am one of only two or three Mormons that my colleagues and other acquaintances have ever known.  Anecdotal evidence, I know; but I think that's a common experience for Mormons outside Utah.

    Upshot:  People tend to fear what they don't know.  Americans hear that Mitt Romney's a Mormon, and they're not sure what that means.  Or they think of the two or three Mormons they've ever known and assume those people represent the entire Church.  Or maybe they think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or Ted Bundy (who was briefly a Mormon), or Steve Young.  People hear a candidate is Mormon, and they wonder what that means.  People hear a candidate is Catholic, and they yawn.

    2. The existence of many myths about Mormons.  Some examples here.  (Not an official LDS site.)  None of these are true, but they've persisted for years.  Would you want as your president a member of a racist church that practices polygamy and does not believe in Christ?  Neither would I.

    3. Misunderstood Mormon history.  One blogger to whom we linked in yesterday's reading list wrote:

    At the time of his murder, Joseph Smith was running for president and had control of Mormon militia, which has been called largest armed force (public or private) west of the Mississippi.

    And that's mostly true, except that Joseph Smith was never a serious presidential candidate; he ran to attract attention to the anti-Mormon persecution of the time and the federal government's well-documented refusal to hep the Mormons.  As for the militia, the Mormons didn’t have one until they were driven out of Missouri, a traumatic experience indeed. The Governor of Missouri signed the infamous “Extermination Order,” authorizing the shooting on sight of Mormons who were not out of the state by a certain date. The militia was entirely defensive.

    The Church has come a long way from those early days.  But the myths persist.  Some of those myths breed fear. 

    4. Rapid growth.  30 years ago there were 2.3 million LDS members in the USA; now there are 6 million, with another 6 million outside the USA.  The work of non-Mormon sociologist Rodney Stark, now at Baylor University, probably worries many observers:

    Examining [Mormonism's] growing appeal . . . Stark concluded that Mormons could number 267 million members by 2080. In what would become known as "the Stark argument," Stark suggested that the Mormon Church offered contemporary sociologists and historians of religion an opportunity to observe a rare event: the birth of a new world religion.

    I personally think Stark’s growth projections are overly optimistic, but throwing out figures like those gets people’s attention.  If I were a pastor or committed, educated member of another faith, and were convinced of Mormonism's outright error, I would be disturbed on at least two levels: 

    • If I were a creedal Evangelical Christian, I might be sincerely worried about all those millions of people risking eternal damnation after being deceived by a false religion.  (That comment may seem flippant; it's not intended to be.)
    • On a more subliminal level, as someone who's committed a great deal of my life to another faith — especially if I am a pastor whose livelihood depends on a strong flock willing to support me– watching the success of "the competitition" might alarm me greatly.

    I might also worry that electing a Mormon president would only fuel the Church's growth by legitimizing and "mainstreaming" it.  Al Mohler openly admits to that very concern, and says the decision to vote for a Mormon for president would be "excruciating" for him.

    Simply as a liberal, if I were one, I might look at Stark's projections and worry about the Mormons taking over the country, dominating or heavily influencing state legislatures everywhere, and imposing strict liquor laws throughout the nation.  I'm not sure what to say about that worry, except to call it far-fetched and generally lacking faith in American institutions.

    5. A high level of organization.  This worry tends to be limited to those who know a fair amount about the Church.  Unlike Evangelical congregations, the LDS Church is tightly integrated, highly organized, and completely heirarchical.  It also has extensive financial resources. By all outward appearances, if the Church leadership wanted to, it could send an army of Mormons out to work for any good cause– political or otherwise. During Katrina, for example, thousands of Mormons spread out across the stricken area to rebuild and repair, to clean up and deliver supplies.

    Those resources have never been used for anything other than a humanitarian cause, and there's no reason to think that would change; but the resources—human and material– still scare some people.

    6. An aggressive missionary effort.  We have over 60,000 full-time missionaries throughout the world now, mostly young men and women, and they’re working with current members all the time to find new converts.  The stated mission of the Church is to invite all to come to Christ, and "preaching the gospel" is a major part of that effort.

    Concerns 1-3 above — unfamiliarity, myths, and misunderstood history– dissipate with education about, and social contact with, Mormons.  Romney will get past them as people become more aware of what Mormons are all about.

    Concerns 4-6, however– growth, organization, and missionary effort– are probably not as easy to dismiss.  Mormons as a group are highly organized, well-disciplined, and are vigorous proselyters, and always have been.  

    I need help from Evangelicals and other creedal Christians to answer these questions.  I think John will be weighing in too, but for now I'll turn to John Mark Reynolds on the question of "mainstreaming" Mormonism by electing a Mormon president:

    I think this argument breaks down for three reasons, First, it assumes that Mormonism is not already a “normal” part of American politics. Mormons are already major players in at least three states (Utah, Idaho, and Arizona) and highly influential in Republican politics in general. Evangelicals need to “get over” their wish that Mormonism would vanish or is a small group that can safely be dismissed with the label “cult.” Instead, we should begin treating Mormonism as a large, respectable, and powerful competitor in the marketplace of ideas.

     

    Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of Mormon doctrine, but then I work with pro-life Catholics while having very definite feelings about the Pope’s claim to be the universal head of the Church. Mormons never sacked Constantinople, the mother city of my church, like the Pope’s army did, but I manage to overcome serious historical and theological differences and join ranks with my Catholic pro-life comrades.

     

    While we strongly disagree with Mormons and other religious groups (such as Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism), traditional Christians are wise enough to make common cause with them when we can. In the culture of free inquiry which traditional Christianity embraces, there is nothing dangerous about letting people get to know (or see us working with) people with whom we have serious disagreements, since we are confident in our theological arguments. I encourage my students to read the Book of Mormon and examine its claims seriously before engaging in any dialogue with Mormons. Knowledge, not the prejudice that is the result of ignorance, is our guiding light as traditional Christians.

     

    If we could vote for Reagan, whose doctrinal notions were at best fuzzy, then my guess is that we can stomach Romney (whose theology is at least coherent). I don’t think my vote for my political hero Reagan converted throngs to Nancy’s well known use of astrology.

    Fear of Mormons is understandable and, in fact, to be expected, given the nature of the Church.  What will be interesting to watch over the next 23 months is whether those fears will be dispelled by reason, as Dr. Reynolds urges; or as Hugh Hewitt's soon-to-be-published book will urge.  Here on this blog, of course, we'll do our best to push the discussion in the direction of reason and away from fear.

    John adds (briefly): I agree, there is much fear of Mormonism in the country and most of it is unfounded.  Having said that; however, I am more reflective of how little we know about what most candidates believe or think, even though their particular faith may be more mainstream.  Consider the overused Kennedy example – How many Protestants understand the difference in Catholicism and Protestantism?  They are quite different, but I think most people don't care because there really is something called a "civil religion" of which Catholicism is a recognized adherent.

    Mormonism's problems relate largely to the fact of its historical lack of adherance to that civil religion, namely its polygamous past.  I think it would be a mistake to try and solve all the problems Lowell has outlined here.  I think the message should be a simple one, direct one.  "Mormons have grown up…" (perhaps in deference to me friend Lowell there is a less perjorative way to phrase that but you get the idea) "…and we are pretty much like you, at least when it comes to that civil religion."

    By the way, religions that get competitive with one another, get lost in my opinion.  Religion is about truth; truth cannot compete with other truth, it is either true or not.  When it comes to the political arena, the truth of differing religions is unimportant.

    Lowell:  The civil religion comment is excellent.

    [tags] Mitt Romney, John Mark Reynolds, Hugh Hewitt, fear of Mormons, Mormonism, Al Mohler, Joseph Smith, Rodney Stark [/tags]

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    Today’s Reading List – November 30, 2006

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:46 am, November 30th 2006     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The view from Mississippi.  I am afraid this kind of piece is becoming increasingly common – "Another visit by another candidate, what's the angle?  I know! – 'the Mormon thing.'" And then they talk about it without really examining it.  Call it – "The Question Lite."  Lazy journalism at its best.

    While we are in the South – a "political insider" column from Atlanta.  Most evangelical political leaders are pretty savvy and this demonstrates it.

    Because he'd get his butt handed to him, that's why.

    The hiring continues, from Hotline and WaPo.

    When you mix religion and politics too closely, you get stuff like this.  Put bluntly, politics is about the possible, religion the ideal.  Sometimes, dealing with the possible means alliances and actions that are less than ideal.  They should never be wrong, or evil, but that is a far cry from less than ideal.

    Anybody who would smirk this much has got to be in it for ego-gratification, despite protests to the contrary.  It's from the personal blog of the guy at The Moderate Voice (it is a group blog) who, along with Andrew Sullivan, posted the now infamous underwear pictures.  The incredulous nature of his post defies believability.  Of course he knew the pictures would be problematic.  We've been had people – he got what he wanted, traffic.  (Note his reference to being a tabloid writer, he was definitely tabloid here) Lowell:  And boy, is he happy with himself, or what?  Ironically, a "Moderate Voice" co-blogger linked to us. Welcome!

    More anti-religious left-rant that cannot really distinguish creedal Christian and Mormon Christian.  He does; however, coin the phrase "evangelical Mormon" which could be quite useful politically - although I see evangelical theologians everywhere panicing at the mere suggestion. 

    A leftie rant from Utah, of all places.  Lowell:  My home town Salt Lake City is a very blue island in a very red state.  The liberals there suffer from San Francisco envy.

    I ran into this "Romney is really responsible for gay marriage in Massachusetts" rhetoric at Liberty Sunday.  This is the extreme right and they scare me almost as badly as the left.  The law of the land is the law of the land, and a governor is constrained by it; the kind of civil disobedience they would like to see is actually where "theocracy" comes from.

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    The Transformation of Religion Wrought By The American Ideal

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:52 am, November 29th 2006     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    I am not sure people understand the transformation wrought in how people think about religion that was brought about by the colonization of North America and its eventual independence.  I looked a while back at the Founding Fathers and their ideas about separation and I want to approach that from a slightly different angle.

    My thinking here is sparked by three things.  The first our post of 11/28 on the discussion about whether Mormons are Christians or not.  We were trying to find out why the question even matters, and one of the reasons we struck upon was simply clubbiness.  The second thing that sparks my thinking here is Andrew Sullivan's continued descent into irrelevancy as he rants against "Christianists" – creedal Christian and Mormon Christian.  We have discussed this here and here.  The third thing is this article from the BBC about "religious crime" in the UK.  My wife and I spent Thanksgiving with a couple that grew up in Belfast, so such things were fresh on my mind.

    In the Old World religion was not something you adopted, it was something you were born into, like race.  Religion identified people groups and as always people groups liked to throw down with each other.  Catholic/Protestant and Anglican/Puritan are divisions that rent the United Kingdom into civil war and as the article points out, remnants of that animosity remain to this day.

    But America, settled by a variety of peoples, some of whom were these people groups leaving their places of oppression, arrived at a very different notion.  In America, religion was transformed from a basis of political power into a matter of personal conviction and personal improvement.  This transformation, by the way, accounts in large measure for the rise of Evangelicalism and the decline of the traditional denomination.  With religion no longer being a political entity, the need for denominational structures to organize that power declined and in its place arose the independent congregation designed to meet the individual need.

    The result is that religion in American has flouished like no where else in the world.  Now given the political process we have established in this nation, like-minded people are encouraged to unite for political action.  As Evangelicalism has grown it has created a large pool of like-minded people, it is only natural they would unite for political action when it suited their like-mindedness.  But this political action on their part is quite different from the political activity of the church in the Old World sense.  It is political action by people united by an idea and/or an issue, it is not a power grab for some eccelesiatical institution; no such institution exists today.

    And yet it seems, our poltical opponents wish to paint us along Old World lines.  Our opponents fight a fight they won centuries ago.  They wish to paint us as a people group when we are no such thing.  Similarly, extremists on the right would try and forge us into a people group in a desire to accumulate power unto themselves.

    And now these well delineated, increasingly hostile battle lines are threatened.  Into this volatile mix has stepped a candidate sharing the like-mindedness of the Evangelicals, and yet eccesiastically very distinct therefrom.  This candidate threatens the left as he blows apart any possibility of their painting us with the Old World brush.  This candidate also threatens the extreme right because without even an illusionary eccesiastical unity, power consolidation becomes well-nigh impossible.

    What else could explain the increasingly shrill and vitriolic rhetoric that we have seen in the weeks since the mid-terms?  The energy and volume of the discussion says to this observer that there is more at stake than merely the choice of who to nominate for the Presidency.  The very structure of power within our political system appears to be threatened.

    And thus, the candidacy of Mitt Romney strikes me as one of the best things to come along in a very great while.  I think the discussion surrounding his religious affiliation has yet to peak, it will get worse before it gets better.  But I do think it will peak before the campaign season gets deadly serious.  Through it I think we will see a realignment of the power structure for the better.  I think this realignment will come regardless of outcome, provided Romney maintains as a major player.

    The shift will, I believe, be back in the direction the Founding Fathers intended, a move back towards religion not as a political base, but a personal one.  Persons of faith will continue to be, and should continue to be politically active.  But I think through this process such action will be less about religious identity and more about the issues, the way it is supposed to be.

    [tags]religion, Founding Fathers, people groups, religious identity, political action, Mitt Romney, BBC, Belfast, Old World[/tags]

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    Today’s Reading List – November 29, 2006

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:40 am, November 29th 2006     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Brendan Miniter looks at Romney's recent moves on same-sex marriage in Massachuetts.  Miniter asserts that Romney's moves are aimed not just at his state, but at his potential national campaign.  It makes the excellent point that such moves are not necessarily purely self-serving.  Regardless of result, if Romney puts the issue front-and-center it will be a major accomplishment.

    Even Glenn Reynolds is taking exception to Andrew Sullivan.  Glenn is no great defender of religion, nor as he quotes, is Sullivan's other major counterpoint in all this, Ann Althouse.  That says most of what needs to be said.

    A lengthy, but excellent, blog post springing from Hugh Hewitt's ETS remarks and looking at Martin Luther's thoughts on a "religious test.  The point?  Luther may often be improperly quoted on the "wise Turk/foolish Christian" thing, but the sentiment remains.  Hugh, who always speaks extemporaneously, has promised us the text of the speech for publication here as soon as he can get it together.

    American Baptist Press summarizes the same Hewitt speech.

    Newt's definitely dancing, but I still think he needs a partner – maybe he's looking for one?

    Lowell:  I hope Newt doesn't run, but I hope Romney listens to him.

    John Dickerson, writing at Slate, says it is time now for Romney to address "The Question" directly.  Nah – the heat the issue saw this last week is because it was an incredibly slow news weekend over the holiday, and the discussion was amongst the select few in the blogosphere.  This issue has to get a lot more public before it can be put to bed by the candidate himself – a lot more public.  If he tried something now, it'll just come up again as more hear about him.

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    Andrew Sullivan, Religion, and “self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:44 am, November 28th 2006     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    I rarely read Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, but have been reading lately as he has inserted himself into the issues this blog seeks to address.  I must admit, the man seems to be a perplexing bundle of self-contradictions, sensitivity, and– most of all– deep anger. 

    For example, Sullivan posts the following this morning as his "Thought for The Day:"

    "He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas," – Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, University of Notre Dame Press.

    And yet just above that high-minded sentiment Sullivan joyfully posts about a movie parody of Mormonism called "Orgazmo."  A fews posts below he's sharing video clips of South Park episodes  parodying Mormons.  And those are just for starters. 

    Am I the only one who sees inconsistency here? 

    More to the point of this blog, it seems to me that we will hear a lot more, before the 2008 campaign is over, from the likes of Sullivan and others on the angry secular Left with a deep fear and loathing of religious American conservatives– Evangelical , Mormon, Jewish, or whatever else they may be.  This blog, of course, will monitor that discussion carefully.

    [tags] Mormon, Mormonism, Andrew Sullivan, South Park [/tags]

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